‘Very sensitive subject’: Plan to take Welsh water to London awakens painful memories | Wales

On February night 60 years ago, three young men fought in blizzard conditions to plant a bomb on a building site in a remote Welsh valley. Their target was a dam built by a privatized English water company to supply water to Liverpool.

To supply millions of liters per day to the English town, the inhabitants of the small Eryri (Snowdonia) village of Capel Celyn had to be evicted and their homes, farms, post office, school, chapel and cemetery flooded to create a reservoir.

The new Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Wales Defense Movement) bombing of the electrical transformer supplying the development on 9 February 1963 was an act born out of intense opposition to the village drowning; people boarded buses to Liverpool to march through the streets.

Despite protests, in October 1965 Alderman Frank Cain of the Corporation of Liverpool pulled a lever to sink Capel Celyn forever under tens of millions of liters of water to create the Llyn Celyn Reservoir.

Now, as the worsening climate plunges more regions into drought conditions, privatized water companies are once again turning to Wales for more water – this time for London and the south east of England.

Thames Water wants to take up to 155 million liters of water a day from Wales to boost supply to the most populous part of England in the years to come. It works with United Utilities, which holds a license to extract water from Lake Vyrnwy, a reservoir in Powys, and with Severn Trent. But as graffiti across North Wales in memory of Capel Celyn shows, water continues to be a moving topic in the country.

Powys politicians are arming themselves for tough water access negotiations in the years to come. The county council wants the UK and Welsh governments to put in place the necessary legislative frameworks to enable its communities to benefit financially from the use of its water. The council wants a tax levied on water supplies that are not intended for the direct benefit or consumption of Powys residents.

Cofiwch Dryweryn (Remember Tryweryn) in Ceredigion commemorates the decision to flood the Tryweryn Valley, including the village of Capel Celyn. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Elwyn Vaughan, a Plaid Cymru councilor on the county council, said there had been Thames Water officials in the Lake Vrynwy area for the past 12 months. “Last year’s drought seems to have really focused the spirits,” Vaughan said. “But before Thames Water looks at our water here, my argument is that they should plug their own leaks first – 600 million liters a day – rather than putting all that effort into taking water from ‘here.”

Vaughan added: “Water is a very sensitive topic. It is a mistake to assume that abundant supplies will be there forever.

The water companies’ proposal is that water from Lake Vyrnwy, now withdrawn by United Utilities to supply Liverpool and the North West of England, be redeployed to supply London and the South East. Water from the reservoir would be discharged into the River Vyrnwy and the River Severn, where it would be taken near Gloucester before being routed to south-east England via a new pipeline or restored Cotswold canals.

Environmental concerns focus on the release of huge volumes of water into the Rivers Vrynwy and Severn, and the impact on other Welsh rivers of replacing water taken for the south east.

Ceri Davies, from Natural Resources Wales, said: ‘This release into Vyrnwy would need to be carefully controlled to balance other vital requirements such as flood risk management and ecological impact. We will need to be satisfied that the proposals will not have a detrimental impact on the communities and wildlife of Wales before accepting them.

Gail Davies-Walsh, chief executive of Afonydd Cymru (the Welsh Rivers Trust), echoed the concerns, saying the Severn was a special area of ​​conservation so it was important that further flow did not take place there. negative impacts.

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There are also fears that the indirect impact of diverting water from Wales to the South East of England could damage other Welsh rivers. Peter Powell, chief executive of the Welsh Dee Trust, said: ‘If they start using Lake Vyrnwy to supply water to England they will have to take more water from the River Dee for Liverpool and the north -west. The Dee is already struggling with over-abstraction and this will put enormous additional pressure on him.

“The rivers of Wales are all over-abstract and have their own challenges. This plan will take more water from Wales to fuel economic growth in South East England.

Capel Celyn is an intense memory in Wales, rarely more so than last summer when the whole country was gripped by drought and water levels in Llyn Celyn were so low that the ghostly remains of the village chapel could be seen emerging from the tank floor.

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said there was a long history in Wales of its raw resources being used in England while the local people did not benefit from them, with the drowning of Capel Celyn being the one of the most notable examples. “These latest plans from United Utilities, Severn Trent and Thames Water risk repeating the mistakes of the past,” Dodds said.

For Elwyn Edwards, who was 13 when his relatives were expelled from Capel Celyn, the problem is simple: “I went to Liverpool to protest. Two busloads of us left from here but nothing came out. They went ahead anyway and we didn’t get a penny. So I don’t mind that they take the water as long as they pay for it, every ounce.

Thames Water said: Last summer, with extreme heat and lack of water, is a clear indication of the climate emergency at first hand. There are no quick and easy fixes and we need to plan ahead to manage a growing population, changing climate and increasing risk of drought, while ensuring we can protect our environment now and in the future. coming.

Redeploying water currently used by United Utilities from Lake Vyrnwy in Wales is one of many… options being considered. There are no plans to take any additional water from Lake Vyrnwy beyond what is currently permitted to be taken by United Utilities under its existing taking license.

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